Resuscitate. Reinvigorate. Rebrand. Reassess. Realize.
All these "R" words apply to the Republican party after Tuesday's defeat of Mitt Romney (another "R" word). At least, this is what pundits are saying. Some are scared that Republicans are losing their relevance, as the United States becomes more diverse. Others are gleeful that Republicans appear to have become too right-wing for their own good.
Has the Grand Old Party ossified into an anachronistic WASPish club? Or a Christian cult? Have the Grover Norquists in its ranks crippled its influence? Has the conventional rudder of American society fallen off our ship of state? Is incessant liberalism now running amok among us?
Was This Election a Wake Up Call for GOPers?
Some Republicans have reacted in stunned horror to the election results this week, and they're reeling in disbelief that the country they love now seems foreign to them. Or at least profoundly different from the country they thought they were living in. At the same time, there seems to be brewing a reluctant realization among the party faithful that some regrouping and rebranding needs to take place for its survival through 2016 and beyond. So let's take some time and explore some of the ways the GOP might want to consider its new role in American politics.
It's hard to look at the core of President Obama's support base and fail to acknowledge that profound changes have taken place in our society. What we used to assume as non-negotiable tenets of American life have not only become negotiable, but many of our fellow citizens appear to have completely capitulated to an impertinent obfuscation of conventional morality while we weren't watching.
At least, our society thinks it can change the rules. In reality, pop culture is mostly ignoring them.
To a certain extent, however, hasn't the conservatism many Republicans cherish been on life support for over a century? And, to be honest, haven't we really been watching it evaporate all along, and even being complicit in the erosion of the values we're suddenly trying to buttress?
What is conservatism, anyway? Wasn't it radicals, after all, who pursued our Revolutionary War? To be conservative in 1776 meant being loyal to the Crown.
The obtuseness of Southern conservatives helped precipitate our Civil War, which some ardent Confederalists down here still insist on calling the "War of Northern Aggression."
In a way, political conservatism has always been evolving, and it's tough to say that the 1980's glory years of Ronald Reagan Republicanism was the point at which it should have been bronzed into immortality. Change, as we keep hearing, is a constant, and since politics is about as imperfect a system upon which we can anchor our lives, the Republican Party is hardly sacrosanct.
The trick is knowing what values should be championed, and how they should be championed. Generally speaking, the Republican Party appears to be the last bastion of several key components of a society that can be both productive and beneficent. However, it appears that Republicans have lost that narrative, either by willfully ceding the moral underpinnings of those components to a sort of virtuous narcissism, as seen in the tendency by Republicans to scoff at people who need public assistance, or by failing to frame the narrative in terms a demographically fluid voting constituency can appreciate.
Some GOPers have already begun blaming members of Romney's campaign staff for bungling this past election, but frankly, if Republicans throughout the party are not representing the party well, a quadrennial campaign isn't going to change skeptics' minds. We have to practice what we preach, and we have to preach the right stuff.
Well, so much for keeping this discussion ecumenical!
Take all of the moral dilemmas we face today, and how many of them have to do with sex? When Charles Darwin introduced his theory of Evolution, On the Origin of Species, in 1859, he unleashed a tide of secular floodwaters that would undermine America's churched culture. This surge of uninhibitedness in questioning faith and morality helped lead to a bevy of new societal norms, such as public sexual promiscuity, first mainstreamed by the 1920's flappers, and then made ubiquitous during the 1960's. Neither a woman's "right to choose" nor gay marriage just materialized out of thin air - they've been nurtured for more than a century in American society by an incessant, albeit often clandestine, erosion of morals and respect (if not outright belief) for Biblical authority.
Suffice it to say that whatever ethical quandary Tuesday's presidential election may be perceived as placing our country in, the factors leading up to Tuesday's vote have been in play for generations. To the extent that America's believers in Christ have been complicit in what most of us perceive as our country's desertion of Christian principles of society and government, that complicity can likely be found in our own desertion of standards for holy living and righteous contributions to the benefit of the unsaved around us.
I will admit that for most of my life, I've lived in a Christian cocoon that has insulated me from the reality of what unbelievers are doing, thinking, and believing. To many of us, throwing up a church building and opening the doors a couple of times a week constitutes Biblical evangelism. Meanwhile, however, we've divorced, had extramarital sex, and even had abortions at rates that come close to mirroring those in the unchurched world. One of the reasons I started this blog involved my realization that evangelicals are living in some sort of time warp that we ourselves have mythologized into existence. Aren't we supposed to be in the world, but not of it?
These days, it seems many of us are "of" the world, but not "in" it. This means we indulge in the culture in ways that can dull us to an awareness of how evil the world around us can be. Should we assume we can inoculate ourselves against our culture and wallow in it without consequence? Might there be a lot less gray area in God's grace than many of us conveniently assume?
Fair Social Wellness
Having established that moral degeneration is to be expected from society, that's not to say that we should expect it in our evangelical circles, or give up advocating for moral standards in the world around us. History holds some significant eras when cultures have embraced greater standards of morality. These include the emancipation of slaves, and even, yes, Lyndon Johnson's well-meaning yet poorly executed "War on Poverty."
For a variety of reasons, churches were decelerating their charitable work, and Americans weren't willing to assume personal responsibility for caring for the poor. Yes, having the government manage the charity God originally expected the church to perform is an inferior strategy, and we evangelicals can readily point to its failures. But until we're ready to step up to the plate regarding how God expects us to spend the money He's entrusted to us, shouldn't somebody be providing a safety net for the most deserving?
The key is figuring out who is most deserving, and in our efforts to make decisions in this regard, conservatives need to refrain from the urge to brand everyone on government assistance - whether it be from student loans to public housing - with the same punitive assumptions. Mitt Romney's infamous "47 percenters" speech epitomizes the fallacies conservatives - and many evangelicals - perpetuate in this regard.
How To Talk Trash
I happen to agree with conservatives that the best way to fight poverty is to promote a healthy economy. And yes, this means that government is not the job-creator some liberals want to think it is. But the government does need to protect its populace from excesses in commerce that contribute to such overall dangers as infringements on human rights, and environmental pollution.
For example, we Americans benefit from some remarkably successful policies that have helped clean our ecology, but we risk sabotaging our economy by allowing a bureaucratic mindset to permeate our government that assumes environmental legislation must be constantly adding to itself. In other words, our Environmental Protection Agency has wrongly taken upon itself the responsibility to continually restrict business growth by enacting new rules. Unfortunately, these new rules have been mandated more out of the agency's own need for self-preservation, rather than the need to combat ever more menacing dangers to our environment.
Human existence being what it is, our very presence on this planet is going to involve some pollution of what could be considered our Earth's "natural" state. When conservatives contend that having humans contributing to our planet's pollution is actually part of that "natural" state, we're simply acknowledging that to a certain extent, pollution is natural. And frankly, the Earth has built-in safeguards for a remarkable amount of that pollution. We believers call it Creation Science, while many secular scientists call it Evolution. Either way, the role of our government isn't to push society to the point where mankind is invisible on this planet. It's to figure out how much pollution is too much, and draw up guidelines from there. For the most part, it seems as though our government already accomplished that objective years ago, so until some new man-made threat emerges - and yes, maybe that's global warming - the EPA might as well go into maintenance mode.
It's not that conservatives don't value ecology, but it seems that some stakeholders in the environmental debates are being intentionally excluded. Compromise has become a dirty word on Capitol Hill, and Republicans need to seize the opportunity to model it well. Protecting our water, land, air, and jobs would be a good start.
Spelled out this way, conservatives have a compelling case to make for curbing the influence of the EPA without giving liberals ammunition painting us as reckless destroyers of the environment. What Republicans need to do is change the narrative, from calling for its utter elimination, to endorsing its original intent. After all, nobody wants to go back to the way we were living in the 1960's and 1970's, when pollution was at levels that mirror what we're seeing in many Majority World countries today.
Tomorrow: Hope and Change, Part 2: Illegal Immigration
Monday: Hope and Change, Part 3: Libertarianism